Indeed, the parallels between us are striking. A youth gifted with familial love, education and talent; a midlife filled with promise and success, then a vertiginous fall from grace at the cusp of middle age – both of us 44. Neither of us could escape the impact of wider circumstances beyond our control – in my case, society’s hostility toward love between men; in your case, the woeful ruination of AIDS and addiction upon a generation. But we are both responsible for the hubris with which we tempted fate – inviting consequences we could have easily avoided. And prison was the ultimate consequence for us both.
As you know, my two years at hard labor broke my health, but I could never quite regret the experience. Like you, I have always felt art redeems everything, and it is unimaginable to me now that I would look back on my life’s work without De Profundis or The Ballad of Reading Gaol. I daresay you feel the same about Ink from the Pen – as you say, the only thing harder to imagine than going to prison in the first place is now not having written this book. The one story I was most drawn to was Friendless Stranger, because I remember so well my worst week in prison: the overwhelming fear and cacophony, the uncertainty whether my cellmate was friend or foe. And then the poem you shared within that chapter itself – Strange Friend– is quite haunting, no wonder “Drifter” stole it for Talent Night.
I actually read “Because the Stars Incline Us” aloud at our last salon and the Bronte sisters thought it was marvelous. (Norman Mailer scowled, but he scowls at everything.) Your Uncle was right, by the way, spirits stay in this “waiting room” until that have been sufficiently forgotten to move on – so that leaves quite a group of glittering artists here. We don’t mind. It means we are remembered, and what could a writer want more?
Don’t hurry to join us, young man, you have many more years of creativity ahead. But when you do get here it will be a great pleasure to throw you a grand dinner party, and you can regale us all with the tale of how you almost got away with faking your own death.
P.S. Oh I wouldn’t worry about claiming we have the same birthday. What’s one day and 104 years apart in the grand scheme of things?